About 18 months ago I hosted a twitter Q&A session with Jo Swinson, Minister for employment relations, consumer affairs and women and equalities. The subject we discussed was shared parental leave. At the time it was a proposal being considered as part of the Children and Families Bill.
Earlier today I again found myself speaking to the Minister, this time as part of a Google+ hangout hosted by the marvellous BritMums bloggers network. In addition to the Minister, the session involved some brilliant bloggers; BritMums founders Jennifer Howze and Susanna Scott (Jenography and A Modern Mother respectively), Mari Weekes, of Maris World and Helen Neale of KiddyCharts.
As today’s hangout showed, things have progressed significantly since that original Q&A. Far from being proposals, shared parental leave has been enshrined in law and will come into effect from April 2015. This is a subject you need to know about if you are:
- Pregnant / an expectant father in your first trimester
- In the midst of an adoption or
- Planning a family.
The old maternity and paternity rules will be greatly enhanced and made much more flexible.
In brief, this is how shared parental leave will work:
- It will come into effect for babies due on or after 5 April 2015, or adoptions where the child is matched or placed on or after 5 April
- Pregnant women will continue to have access to 52 weeks of maternity leave and 39 weeks of pay as they do at the present time
- Under the scheme, working couples will be able to share maternity leave and pay that has not been taken
- There will be a compulsory two week maternity leave to allow the mother to physically recover from the birth
- Following the two week’s maternity leave, 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay can be shared between the two parents
- The pattern of leave must be agreed between the employer and employee, with 8 weeks notice.
The changes will enable both parents to retain a strong link with the labour market; allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their child whilst helping mothers to return to work at a time that’s right for them.
Although only 13 minutes long, a great deal was discussed in the hangout. Subjects included; the benefits to parents, the benefits to employers, the reluctance of men to request flexible working and whether the new rules will reduce the sexism faced by women in the workplace.
My favourite quote from the hang out came from the Minister. When asked about the impact on business of the new rules, she stated, matter of factly, that “business needs people to keep having babies.” I won’t say too much more about the hangout, I’ll leave you to watch for yourself (see the link to YouTube above).
Is shared parental leave a good thing? In my opinion it’s a fantastic step in the right direction. It gives couples considerably more flexibility and will give men greater opportunity to be involved in those vitally important early days.
I have some concerns that it will take time for dads to take full advantage of their new rights. I think some men understandably have fears that spending too much time away from work will be viewed negatively by their employers. This has been dealt with in other nations by introducing what’s been dubbed a use it or lose it clause. In other words a man must use some of his shared parental leave rights within a set time frame or else he loses the right to it altogether.
It sounds brutal, but such a move forces employers to accept that men wish to be involved fathers. Where such clauses have been introduced, take-up of shared parental leave among men has been very healthy.
Regardless of this one point, it is a very progressive policy. It’s also worth bearing in mind that men in the Republic of Ireland only get two week’s of paternity leave; unpaid. Compared to this, British parents are very fortunate.
I shall sign off with one further quote from the Minister. While commenting on the greater equality shared parental leave should bring to the workforce, she said; “If people are thinking that dads taking time out is a problem, but mums taking time out is fine, that’s a rather sad indictment of what they think of women in the workplace.”
More information about Shared Parental Leave is available on the .Gov website.